Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Soul's Story of Redemption: Mary Poppins & The Saving of Mr. Banks!

We watched the Tom Hanks movie, "Saving Mr. Banks." I had no idea what to expect and I generally don't watch a movie that I have no inkling of its pedigree. But this was well worth it, and I rarely make movie recommendations.

I think the only aspect of it that might prevent the movie from becoming one of the all time classics is that it is close-to-essential to know the story (and movie), Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke (and produced by Walt Disney and first screened in 1964).

If you don't know the Mary Poppins story and movie, well, you can skip this blog article, as I don't want to take the time and space to explain it. 

The lead character, the author of the original Mary Poppins story, "P.L. Travers," is played by Emma Thompson, of Shakespeare play renown. I do not know to what degree the movie, "Saving Mr. Banks," follows the real story of the author but, no matter. 

Why, "no matter?" Because truth is greater than fact. "Saving Mr. Banks" is a story of redemption. In this archetypal genre, such stories have for their truth the reality that we are need of redemption from the past, from ignorance, from delusion. Every great classic story of redemption involves the wisdom and love of another person who aids in the process of releasing the past and finding one's true Self. In the world of spirituality, God takes the form of the guru to lead us home to soul freedom.

This story of redemption is what makes this movie great. Well, ok, not just the story, but the acting, scripting, and, to whatever degree the facts behind it are true, all give it power beyond philosophy or mere intellectual analysis (like I'm doing!).

In this story Travers is a young girl whose father is an alcoholic and his disease destroys him and his career in banking--a career that stifles his creativity and his joy in life. As a young girl she watches her mother's attempted suicide, her father's public humiliation, and finally his death. As a young woman she achieves some financial security from her writings, beginning with the Mary Poppins childrens story that she writes. 

The movie unfolds via flashbacks and fairly slowly, but it crescendos in the realization that her beloved children’s book is her own attempt at redeeming her father, Mr. Banks. It is Walt Disney himself who unlocks the door to her secret. So, too, does her chauffeur (played by Paul Giamatti--leading role in and as "John Adams").

The acting is superb; the lines and music priceless; but the cathartic lesson is timeless. 

As souls we are prodigal; we are lost in the wilderness of our own separateness. The pain of separation, the existential angst, drives us to desperate measures of resolution: including destructive behaviors such as alcoholism, just to name one (of the more popular) of an infinity of ways to "lose our mind." 

Sticking, though loosely, to the story line, Mr. Banks is a free spirit. He loves his wife and his children and the last thing he's good at is buckling down to support them. His free spirit rules him however and soon produces the clash between his spirit and his actions; between his free spirit and the consequences of his own actions in a material world split by duality, a fatal dichotomy is created. 

He resorts, then, to alcohol to ease the stress and anxiety of his nonconforming behavior. But his habit leads him step-by-step down the rabbit hole, and his family suffers with each his humiliation. But he adores his children and especially our protagonist, his daughter.

She, in turn, innocent as a child and not understanding, but experiencing the tragedy of her parents' respective death wishes, despite their love for her (and her siblings), grows up deeply cleaved and soon shuts out the inner child who is playful, imaginative and free. She develops a compulsive personality that is so rigidly and merely factual, that few can abide her presence. Being a lone writer then suits her just fine. She controls the world around her rigidly and makes no accommodation to her own strict rules and perceptions, sparing no expense of the comfort of others.

In time and in her later years, however, the world catches up with her. She has spurned Walt Disney's annual appeals for movie rights but finally succumbs because she is about to lose her home due to financial woes caused by her own need to be perfect (and thus unable to be creatively inspired as a writer).

Well, the rest of this story is simply the story. You'll have to watch it yourself. As Mary Poppins helps free Mr. Banks (in the children’s story) so he can fly his kite, so P.L. Travers eventually is freed from the straitjacket of her rigidly correct and reasoning mind. In short, she finds redemption.

We have then a classic story whereby the spirit which is within us is held ransom by our fears or rejection of the world around us, its expectations of us, and our proper role in it. It is painful to love, to be vulnerable, to be spontaneous. But our free spirit must also remain in touch with Spirit so that it doesn't descend progressively towards a hell of our making: the subconscious, disconnected from the reality of the world around us. We can retain our innocence--which is our soul's eternal joy, untouched by suffering and death--if we seek that innocence at the heart of all that we do; at the heart of all that is dutiful and right for us to fulfill. It is we who create the tension between the "ought" and the "is." Once we view the world as a battle of wills between what we want and what it wants, it’s a fight to the death: the death of our soul.

"Joy is within you" even as you "do as you ought." This is the secret of redemption. The inner joy of which we speak is of God. It is transmitted to us by those souls who have achieved it as a permanent beatitude. Great saints can show us the way to the freedom of the soul. Freedom is not doing what you want, but doing, with joy, what is right.

What a difficult and daily lesson for each and every person who makes the effort to live intentionally, to live consciously, and, better yet, to live super-consciously, in harmony with the Divine Will, with the divine "lila" (movie or play), and in concert with the great script of our life’s dharma.

So, now, you can watch "Saving Mr. Banks."

"Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

Nayaswami Hriman

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Meditation: Is it Just Me, or, Is Anyone Om?

I was re-listening to a recorded talk by Paramhansa Yogananda today while jogging, and he reminded his audience how easy it is to be "out of tune with God" while meditating. It was an odd way to put it and he may have meant more than I could glean from it, but the basic interpretation is one I can relate to: "I can meditate" and that's all I am doing. Let me try that again:

Over the years as I've been in the position to teach meditation, I've reminded folks to not mistake the "path for the goal." I think this is basically what Yogananda was saying. Patanjali (think Yoga Sutras) described "missing the point" as one of the yogi's spiritual traps. It is very easy for those who meditate to focus on the techniques of meditation and never get beyond their own thoughts and preoccupations.

Now this subject is going to take a little work on my part. So let's sit back, take a deep breath and be still.

First: many meditation teachers and students approach meditation as a mindfulness exercise involving just "me" and not "Thee." This is as far as millions of people even intend to go when they meditate. So these folks aren't really in the "game" of this article at all! To paraphrase a Sixties song, "It's my mind and I can do what I want to." (Leslie Gore) So, quote another Sixties song, "Is that all there is?" (Sinatra) This use of meditation (probably the most common use) is like flossing between the ears. Good mental hygiene with many medical and psychological benefits. End of my article? (You wish!)

This psychological approach may be healthy but I suspect it is difficult to sustain unless the meditator achieves sufficient depth often enough to be desirous of continuing. The simple fact is that meditation takes self-discipline; self-discipline takes motivation; motivation requires necessity. So either one's life is intensely stressful and meditation is a life saver, or, you're likely to be distracted by surfing the net or answering emails or writing blogs, or simply going to bed on time.

Second: traditional use of meditation as a spiritual exercise, including a form of prayer, might be wholly centered on God, Christ, Buddha, Krishna or one of an infinite number of deities or one's teacher. I say "traditional" but I don't say that with complete confidence. Let's simply say, perhaps instead, that when meditation takes a more strictly or more focused devotional form it would be something like that. In this case, too, but for opposite reason, there's no question about "Who's who in meditation." In devotional forms the issue that arises is "When will you come to me?"

The counsel that wise teachers (which includes Yogananda and my own teacher, his direct disciple, Swami Kriyananda) give is that one should be non-attached in meditation and not engage in merchant consciousness, expecting results ("Or, I'll take my cushion and go home!") There's a lovely song, "Keep Calling Him" inspiring the devotee to be steadfast in his devotions whether it takes lifetimes. There's also the thought of "divine impatience" countered by "Patience is the shortest route to God." Now are we getting fuzzy (warm, too?) here?

By impatience we mean that the sense of energy, commitment, zeal and wakefulness of a sort that never gives up is essential. By patience we mean the depth of intuitive knowing that God is always with us and we are ever content in our Self. Yogananda would tell the story of St. Anthony of the Desert. After years of intense prayer and meditation and right on the cusp of his being destroyed by Satan and his minions and calling to Jesus Christ, Jesus finally appears and drives Satan away. Anthony is grateful but chides his Lord asking, "Ahemmm, and, Where were you all this time?" Yogananda would quote Jesus as saying, "Anthony (in a mildly rebuking tone), "I was always with you!" When we meditate with the thought of God's eternal presence we find blissful contentment and waves of grace flowing over us!

Nonetheless, the prayerful and meditating devotee can get discouraged if her entire focus is upon her Lord and he remains ever silent. How many lovers can sustain their love only in silence? In this case the I-Thou becomes one-sided: focused on Thou but Thou art AWOL! Certainly extraordinary bhaktis (lovers of God) will carry on for an eternity, but such devotees are in short supply at this time (of Dwapara Yuga, the age of energy and egoic self-interest).

So, the rest of us are somewhere in between. I assume that many of today's "modern" meditators would identify themselves with the motto, "Spiritual but not religious." Spirituality among this group is somewhat vague and fuzzy, ranging between "feel good" and "feel God," where the emphasis is on "feel." But even among my friends who, like me, are disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda and practitioners of Kriya Yoga, we find the range of intellectual, active, and feeling types.

For example, for years, considering myself more mental than devotional, my emphasis was on my practices (i.e. Kriya Yoga) and the uplifting, calming, and expansive effect meditation had upon me. With steady practice of devotion, including chanting which I love, I gradually became more steady and deep in my comfort with and feeling of and for Yogananda's presence during meditation (and during activity). I discovered from time to time that even with a great meditation, it could be all about having a great meditation and nothing more (devotional, that is)!

Meditation, in other words, can become self-preoccupying. I have often had the sense that some meditators around me (I spend many hours per week in group meditations) are simply sitting there quietly; perhaps contentedly; but essentially "doing nothing": neither striving for depth in meditation, nor offering themselves devotionally to God or guru, nor transcendent of passing thoughts having achieved (or even seeking) a deep state of inner stillness.

In meditation, then, there are several stages:   1) Withdrawal from outer activity;   2) Relaxation, mental as well as physical;   3) Internalization of mental focus;     4) Practice of and concentration upon one's chosen image, state or technique;    5) Having the desire to use one's technique to go beyond it;     6) Achieving a quiescent, inner state of awareness ; and, 7) Achieving upliftment into a higher state of being (than passive quietness).

The active or feeling types all have the same trap: engaging in their respective practices without going beyond them into the very state they are focusing on.

I have concluded after years of practice and teaching that a meditator needs to remind himself to go beyond himself. It's like being "Beside myself" except really, really different, as in "Being inside my Self." When therefore you sit to meditate remind your Self of the difference between your practices and their goal. Always desire and intend to reach your goal, "making haste slowly." Practice with infinite patience and with unstoppable determination. Attempt in every meditation to quiet the heart and breath and achieve a true moment (a moment can be infinite and eternally NOW) of perfect stillness and spiritual wakefulness.

We need the Thou (whether Thou is your practice or Thou is your "God") to replace the "i" and we need to replace the Thou with the I. The one seeks the Other and in the seeking we become ONE.

Are U Won, yet?

Ascending now, au revoir,

Nayaswami Hari-man

Sunday, March 23, 2014

U-Kraine or My-Kraine? What is Right Action?

Russia's re-annexation of the Crimea has stirred up a lot of questions. Putin's counter denunciations of American unilateral actions throughout the world, including Kosovo, reflect their sense of national humiliation over the collapse of the Soviet empire. By all accounts, there are Russians both in Crimea and elsewhere who are proud and ecstatic about the peninsula rejoining "the motherland." Even Mikhail Gorbchev, architect of the Soviet dissolution, was quoted, applauding Russian retaking of Crimea! How differently we humans view what seems like the same circumstances.

Speaking of different views: you probably know that some people in the Middle East deny that the Holocaust ever took place! How many sincere Americans have questioned our own wars of intervention from Vietnam to Iraq, to name a few of our “adventures” into foreign countries. How about the 1950’s and the overthrow of an elected government in Iran favor of the installation of the Shah of Iran with covert CIA assistance (all for national security, of course!) How about American history in re slavery, racism, treatment of native tribes, and on and on? Is there anyone with clean hands?

On “the other hand,” are we Americans really just another chapter of the tale of humans grasping for power? Are we but the mirror image of the evil empire that fell after decades of the Cold War? We just happened to win that one?

What is true? Should the West do more than protest Russia’s unilateral action in Crimea? Should we do more than impose weak-willed, futile sanctions? Is this so wrong an evil that we should go to war? What if Texas wants to secede? Scotland? Northern California?

Abraham Lincoln fought to save the union in his conduct of the American Civil War. He was of course also against slavery. But initially his quest was simply to preserve the union: or, so, at least, he declared it to be, even if, as a consequence, slavery in the south was to be preserved as per the original Constitution. Whatever his thoughts on the matter, the question of a state or region's power to rise up and form its own nation is a darn good question. Some Southerners still fume about the whole thing.

I suppose, musing as much aloud to myself, that there ought to be a compelling moral or ethical reason for a state, province or some minority to secede. Secession must be a bit like disowning one's family to whom natural love and loyalty is otherwise owed. There would need to be, I believe, a case to make of mistreatment of one form or another to permit secession to occur. It shouldn't be merely be prejudice or selfishness in reverse---which, in a sense, the secession of the southern states of America essentially amounted to. What they saw as defense of their way of life was a commitment to the economic and social system of slavery. What they also sensed was the rising tide of northern industrialization that would, in time, eclipse the agrarian south for many decades to come--shifting money and power northward. Both reasons seem far too weak to bolster their case. Industrialization was a simple socio-economic fact for which no rebellion could have thwarted. Secession for this reason would have been futile anyway.

Ukraine, for all the outrage we might naturally feel here in the West, has suffered under its own leaders’ rampant corruption and mismanagement. I don't think I've heard the Russians of Crimea or even eastern Ukraine make accusations of mistreatment at the hands of Ukrainians. Their reasons for rejoining Russia are presumably more cultural and historical than economic or ethical. I am ill equipped to say anything intelligent or well-informed on that issue but I wonder, as many must surely also, what the right and moral response is to the annexation. Certainly wrist slapping sanctions are inevitable, politically, at least. Long term? Well, I can't imagine many Americans think it's worth WW 3!

Are we "just as bad" as the evil empire? Is it all merely a matter of perspective? Yes, and, well, No! Regardless of how poorly or well America may manifest the ideals on which our country was founded, those ideals stand emblazoned for the ages as the standard against which the body politic anywhere on this earth must be measured--including America.

But too many nations, newly formed since the end of WW2, are culturally and politically far, far away from being "in tune" with and ready to make the necessary personal sacrifices to manifest the ideals so eloquently put forth in the Declaration of Independence. How many former holdings of the colonial powers have made a tragic mess of their hard-won freedom?

With Indian independence in 1947 the slaughter was horrific. Genocide is still happening in Asia and Africa, e.g., and is too brutal for most of us to contemplate. Should the colonial powers have held on? Well, what difference does a question like that make at this late date? Conquest necessitates brutality and the imperial empires had run their course and suffered their own fate. The chaos that has resulted from the dissolution of those empires is evidently the price of freedom and the price is evidently very high. The American colonies paid a price for freedom, too.

Who would argue that America should have stayed out of WW 1? WW 2? Vietnam? Iraq? Afghanistan? Some would; most would not. Doesn't matter now....these things have their own course to run and there's no use in "crying over spilt milk." But, now, with Russia on the loose again? Should countries like America continue to be the world's police force? I say a resounding "Maybe!"

In fact what I feel is needed and is long, long overdue is a kind of "Cooperative Union" of nations of like mind. Not West vs East; not 1st world vs 2nd or 3rd world. But nations whose cultures and consciousness are forward looking, expansive and inclusive, and willing to work together for shared goals that express worthwhile human values and ideals. Is this just another form of interconnected treaties such as existed before WW 1?  I say “No,” because such an alliance would not be focused on mutual defense but would emphasizing mutual support and cooperation: culturally, economically, politically, and yes, if necessary, militarily.

How often has China and Russia defeated the legitimate role of the Security Council because, in essence, we don't share a mutual and cooperate set of ideals? I don't mind that such countries aren't ready for American-style democracy, but their own histories of ruthlessness towards their own people make our capitalistic excesses and self-interested maneuverings look like fist fights among school boys. We don't lack corruption and cronyism and there is much wrong with American life, culture and politics today, but there are certain values we share with other countries around the world (not just in Europe) that make for natural allies. Russia is simply not on our wavelength. Is China? That's more difficult to say because of the fast pace of change in what is generally a positive direction. But right now, my vote is NO.

I don't see how any culture or nation can join such a Cooperative Union if it doesn't possess some form of national transparency and accountability, a directional commitment to rule of law, and a culture working towards greater inclusiveness (within and without) and individual liberties. 

This union would not be allies AGAINST anyone, but constitute countries that can work together without having to deal with obstreperous nations constantly thwarting our efforts out of a lack of essential harmony and consciousness. A cooperative of nations could, then, more responsibly and ethically act from time to time to intercede in global hotspots for the protection and safety of innocent people. Doing so by common agreement would tend to mitigate too strong or too narrow a motivation of self-interest. Such a union would serve as a model and inspiration to other countries.

Well, that's my Sunday night two cents. I hope Ukraine will get their country back together but by golly they are going to have to work for it. They've lost something valuable and I suspect they lost it partly deserving it and partly because it is "in the stars" for Russia to flex its imperialistic muscles and revenge its humiliation. 

Is Russia a threat to peace-loving nations? Yes, no question about it. A friend of mine who has lived for periods of time in Russia told me a story I heard echoed in other forms about a man who was sent to Siberia under communism and to the end, however brutally treated he was, held Stalin in great esteem. Such is the blindness of human beings; such is the power of jingoism, like lemmings over a cliff. If Russians yearn still for empire and glory they happen to be about a century too late. It ain't gonna happen. They will be defeated if they really try to regain their lost empire and they will suffer even more than they have during this last century. It would trigger another world war and suffering would be worldwide but Russia would lose, I believe.

I hope this Crimea thing isn't like Hitler taking little bites of Europe and Lord Chamberlain declaring "peace at last" with each bite, but, we cannot really say for sure at this time, can we?

I don't mind whining a little bit about "Why help other nations who simply hate us?" Where is the boundary between helping and rescuing? We Americans are who we are and have done what we have done, but I think and hope America is learning some discernment, like wise parents eventually learn, that sometimes the kids have to get bruised and battered working through their own issues in order to grow up. We can't do it for them but we can stand ready to help if truly asked because we know that a rescue will merely “enable.”

Blessings to you on a fair Spring Equinox weekend where hope Springs Eternal and the promise of beauty and harmony, like a rainbow, shines before us.

Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, March 21, 2014

8-Fold Path to Transcending the "I don't Mind"

In the past two blogs I've described the importance of transcending thoughts in order to have a deeper experience of meditation. Now, there's much more to it than that, but this isn't supposed to be a book: I have to remind myself that this is just a blog!

Inspired by Patanjali's famous 8-Fold Path (it wasn't entirely original with him either), may I offer these suggestions and steps to achieve a deeper, more satisfying and consistent meditation experience:

  1. Yama (control). Start with the clear intention to achieve peace in meditation and to gently, but firmly, put aside, just temporarily, the seemingly important thoughts and preoccupations that assail you. Be somewhat firm with your mind in this respect. Start with an affirmation such as "I am strong in myself. I am complete in my Self. All that I seek await discovery within my inner being (through meditation!). In this affirmation, feel the blessing of inner peace rising within you as you stand firm in your resolution. Take a few moments to enjoy it.
  2. Niyama (non-control). Relax! Welcome the idea and feeling of going within, of being centered in your Self, in your inner (subtle) spine. Experience contentment and the clean feeling that arises from being inwardly at rest -- as if being cleansed by a weightless waterfall of wisdom. Take a few moments to enjoy this image and the insight it offers to you as to "Who am I." 
  3. Asana. (sitting). Ignite the "fire of pure desire" for transcending the roller coaster of likes and dislikes and for being seated in the asana (position) of meditation--as if for hours, days, weeks and more, burning up the seeds of ignorance and material desire. Let your efforts blaze with the power of God-uniting energy.
  4. Pranayama (life force control). Here begin your yoga practices of regular (diaphragmatic) breathing and any combination of breath techniques that you have learned and feel comfortable with. Don't be content with huffing and puffing, however. Control of breath is just the beginning and most outward form by which we can bring the reactive process of ego-driven likes and dislikes under control and, with God-inspired devotion,  re-directing their energy, and the feeling-desires that drive them, upwards toward the seat of enlightenment at the spiritual eye. Purify your heart and offer it to God.
  5. Pratyahara (concentration of the mind). As the winds of breath and heart subside owing to your efforts with pranayam, the mind will begin to clear of restless thoughts like fog vanishing beneath the rising summer sun. Shift from breath control (prana-yama) to watching the breath (ni-yama). Yogananda taught this universal technique with the seed mantra, Hong (chanted silently with the incoming breath) Sau (with the outgoing breath). Challenge yourself to re-direct your mind back to the breath whenever thoughts take your focus hostage. This is where you train the monkey mind directly: gentle but resolute. Don't allow frustration or impatience to creep in when the lower mind gets the upper hand! Never give up. As the flow of breath subsides, so will the thought-invaders (and vice versa).
  6. Dharana (inner awareness). When you feel that you have become satisfactorily calm, cease the watching of the breath and rest in the silence. Peer upward with happy, active, interested intensity, gazing as if with curiosity through the point between the eyebrows---at a point one or two feet past the eyebrows (and perhaps slightly raised)--eyes are still closed, however. From that resting point, now settle in and become sensitively aware: feeling peaceful? Calm? Feeling subtle energy within or around you? Feel in the heart, too.......perhaps a bubble of joy, loving acceptance.....
  7. Dhyana (meditation). Relax so deeply and naturally into your meditation that the sense of "I am feeling peaceful (or XXXX) subsides and what remains is only the "nectar" of the feeling itself--nothing else. 
  8. Samadhi. (oneness). Now, let even the feeling of peace (or XXXX) vanish too. What is left is "I, I, everywhere" and the joy of Pure Consciousness. When you feel time is up, take a moment to bless friends, family, co-workers and anyone in need whose name or image appears.
I can't guarantee every meditation will be like this, but this 8-Fold Path to transcendence will serve you well if you dive deep, energetically, creatively, with intelligence and devotion into the Sea of Peace. As a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, I practice Kriya Yoga as my central pranayam while "watching" includes listening to the inner sounds of the chakras or AUM. I call upon Yogananda to guide me. I will visualize or try to feel his presence; his guidance; his power--lifting me up into the lap of Divine Mother (as he addressed God).

I read an interview with a rapper named Russell Simmons who has practiced meditation and yoga for twenty years. It changed his life and he is helping to change the lives of others for the better. Meditation can change your life, too, no matter what you've been through or have done. "Tat twan asi." "Thou art That (peace and serenity and bliss) which is God, for you are made in the image of Spirit.

Blessings and joy in meditation and in service and in love for God and truth!

Nayaswami Hriman

Exploring: Do You Mind?

In the renowned spiritual classic, "Autobiography of a Yogi," the author, Paramhansa Yogananda, relates how a skeptical scientist once visited Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and expressed his disbelief in God. Sri Yukteswar responded with the suggestion that the scientist spend a day carefully tracking and examining his thoughts. Then, Sri Yukteswar posited, wonder no more at the absence of the godhead!

By this he meant that our thoughts are so restless, random and self-involving that we have no interest or space for perceiving a higher reality and consciousness. In the same book is a quotation of an ancient poem that avers that conquering nations or wild animals pales in comparison to taming the mind.

No one who has attempted to meditate deeply and consistently can fail to recognize the truth herein. While some meditators may struggle with physical discomforts or distractions, all meditators struggle with restless, random, and even negative thoughts and their royal attendants, the emotions.

Am I less aware if I stop thinking? Or more aware? When we are distracted, busy, or frantic, we lack the clarity to address tasks successfully. When emotionally upset we can't think straight and we make mistakes. If you have ever stopped to gaze at a sunset or an entrancing scene in nature, you can only appreciate it deeply if you let your thoughts be still and drink it all in, isn't it so?

Those who have had experiences that are often described as "peak experiences" enter into a state of awareness that goes beyond thought but includes an heightened sense of awareness.

Take a moment to try something: Look up (as if peering a foot or so just past the upper eyebrows). Do so with an attitude of curiosity, of interest, and even calm adventure.  Let a subtle smile play upon your lips as you do this. Cock your head to the side as if attempting to listen to someone soft-spoken (or a distant sound) whose words are important to you. Or, hold this pose (looking up and turning your head as if to listen) as if you need a moment to remember some past event or task you wanted to accomplish (but couldn't yet remember). In this pose, we automatically and instinctively release our thought processes in order to focus on recall (or perceive) something important. It's not unlike a computer which, when you click to retrieve a file, the cursor spins and all other computations or processes halt while it searches the hard disk for a file.

Try this little experiment sitting in your car waiting for the light to turn green. Or, before turning to the next task at your desk when you've just finished some other. Turn and gaze out the window with this "mudra" pose of curiosity, interest and listening! Each time you'll find that the mind obediently relinquishes its tight grip on your consciousness so that you can focus.

Another experiment is to imagine yourself attempting to thread the eye of a sewing needle. After wetting and curling the tip of the thread, you position it in front of the needle's eye and very carefully attempt to ease the thread through. At that moment your breath and heart becomes quiet and your thoughts quiet while focused on your task!

All this is fine in respect to outward tasks but when we sit to meditate, close our eyes, with the body relaxed into an upright natural position, we find almost immediately that we can barely count (mentally) to 10 without wandering off like some little curious monkey or puppy.

To meditate deeply one needs an effective technique and proper and sustained training with someone who has experience. No recorded meditation, book, or online lessons can substitute. Such things can "tell" you what to do but cannot convey the art of doing it.

While a heightened state of meditative awareness supercedes any techniques, the techniques prepare the body and mind to transcend the pressing and habitual demands of the body and mind. A superior athlete or performer uses warming up exercises and routines to get into "shape," both mentally and physically. So, too, does the yogi: one who undertakes the consistent disciplining of the mind as part of the journey towards self-understanding, increased awareness and Self-realization. A yogi is a kind of metaphysical scientist, exploring the realm and realities of consciousness using the tools of body and mind conditioning. The body needs conditioning in order that it cooperate rather than fight the effort to explore the mind. In fact, it goes much deeper than that but let's hold that for later, or, not.

Ultimately the state of true meditation is aptly stated as a kind of aphorism from the Old Testament, "Be still and KNOW THAT I AM---GOD!" I don't want to run off on a God-subject right now, and so for my purposes here, I want to stay on the theme of how to still restless thoughts in order that we can see, and therefore become a SEER (of reality) in an enhanced state of self-awareness and perception. The point is well made and more clinically by Patanjali in the second stanza of the Yoga Sutras: "The state of yoga-oneness is achieved by stilling all physical and mental processes." (Warning: loose translation!)

To explore the mind we have to transcend the mind: the lower, ego-active mind (and emotions, preoccupations, fight or flight, likes and dislikes). It is pure consciousness that the yogi-scientist seeks to look. It's the "Holy Grail" of absolute zero (aka perfect stillness), the speed of light (aka infinity).

The mind is bound to the body and its sense organs and its subconscious and conscious mind through the breath and everything the breath represents: ego. To untie the breath from body is not to physically die for the yogi-scientists of old discovered how to work with the breath and the mind to achieve states of deep quiescence. The masters of yoga can stop their breath and heart at will without any damage to the body, brain or nervous system. During the 19th and 20th centuries in India such demonstrations were conducted in the presence of western doctors and scientists.

As Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in his now famous life story, "Autobiography of a Yogi," India's contribution to the treasury of human knowledge is breath mastery. So long as we are breathing in the normal way and the heart is beating, we are fighting "city hall" to achieve focus of the mind without outer activity.

Thus the yogis gave us various breath and mind control techniques. Absolute breathlessness may be the gold standard but long before achieving such a state, deep insights and states of expanded consciousness are achieved even as the breath and heart gradually come under our control.

But, you have to want it and you have to be trained on how to do it! The subconscious mind and the ego DON'T WANT TO DO IT. They want to stay in the driver's seat and feed upon random thoughts like small animals who move about constantly sniffing out morsels on the ground to munch on. These small "animals," if threatened, band together and in their combined numbers, though individually small, will bare their teeth and push you around, even kick you around, once you try to re-gain control over your own mind. "I don't mind" means I give up and succumb to the passivity of the subconscious and the reactive processes of my likes and dislikes and self-preoccupations.

Enter the bullfighter: MINDFULNESS! He's going to combat the stubborn bull of the ego-mind. He's a good fighter but he doesn't wrestle the bull with his bare hands. He's too smart for that. Instead, he uses consummate skill in handling his red cape to bring the bull under his control and command. The red cape attracts the bull's attention and by using it repeatedly, the torero can tire the bull and bring him into submission.

The bullfighter employs psychological techniques, displaying confidence, charm, and courage. For all his daring, however, he knows the bull is much bigger and can kill him, so he must be patient and skillful.

What we mean by this metaphor is that meditation techniques typically give the monkey mind something to focus on: the breath, a mantra, an image, or a sound....or some combination of these. By this internally focused approach, the mind and breath and heart begin to slow and become deeply calm. But, unlike a bull who lives only by instinct, our mind is of two minds: when it is time to meditate, part of the mind wants to and part does not! (You can guess "Who's who.")

You have to nurture and encourage the higher mind so that it can assert itself. You have to want to BE STILL and know! There's a further thing, here, too: achieving a deeper state is not just mere matter of manipulating the breathing and heart. The state we seek is super-conscious and we cannot force it to obey our mere will by whipping its more mechanical parts. This state pre-exists our awareness of it. We have to enter, then, into a conscious, loving and giving relationship with it. At first, then, it is dual: I-Thou. Only in time, do we enter and become that state, which is non-dual. To do this abstractly is unsuitable for most people. Thus it is natural, indeed, necessary for most, that this state take on human form, or at least some form! This can take the form of a deity, one's guru (living or in Spirit only), or even a quality such as peace, love, or joy.

We must first clear the deck of the mind of restlessness. We must seek to be still. Only in the quiet chamber of the still heart and mind, in the relaxed body temple of the soul, will our Beloved enter. This state of perfect stillness must not only be desired, it must be "felt." This is where the art comes in and where one who has had some success with this proves far more valuable in the role of teacher than detailed instructions written in a book (or in a blog!). The intuitive "feeling" of a meditative state can be conveyed one-on-one to one who seeks it and does so with sensitive awareness and openness. (As an aside, this "transmission" need not require the physical presence of one's teacher, if such teacher is spiritually advanced. Attunement is, itself, first and foremost, an intuitive state of consciousness and intuition knows no barriers of time and space. This is why devotion to saints long departed from this earth can bestow tangible blessings on a sincere devotee.)

Do you remember how it was in the Old Testament that Moses, while leading the Israelites from captivity, could, nonetheless NOT enter the promised land? This means that our ego, no matter how sincere and energized through will power and desire, must subside in favor of receptivity and openness to receive a state of consciousness that is more expansive and that already exists. It too must, as we do when we meet someone, bow where spectators only stand and watch. Thus the essential and foundational requirement of humility, receptivity, and openness.

In more dramatic depictions of the self-sacrifice of ego, we have images such as Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac, his only son at the request of God--something no father would ordinarily consider. Martyrdom, intense prayer, personal sacrifice and self-deprivations and on and on.....all of these at least symbolize the core necessity that the ego submit itself to the flow of grace. These specific examples are not demanded or expected of mere beginning meditators, of course, and for most of us they are but illustrative. But, if one would stop for a moment, and consider the entry fee to achieve infinite consciousness, well, guess what the price is: yes, the ultimate. Fear not, when that time comes, even if, like Jesus himself who prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "May this cup pass from me," you, too, will likely conclude, "Thy will be done."

Be not doubtful that the ego will resist this invitation (each time one meditates, what to mention at the final step of liberation!), but the irony is that our consciousness is not obliterated or submerged in the state of superconsciousness. Indeed, it expands with great joy into the Sea of Consciousness from which it has been sent! In God, nothing is ever lost. There is no time, no dimensions, no past, no future. All that we have been remains PRESENT. We simply expand and return home to Infinite consciousness. But the ego can never be convinced of this. It takes an act of faith, not just will, to meditate deeply. There is an intuitive gnosis, knowing, a remembrance (Patanjali calls it "smriti") that awakens and nurtures an individual to want to meditate

Ah, but I digress to the depths. Let us return, then, to the surface of our subject where the breeze is fresh and the sunlight bright, where birds chirp with delight, sitting on the patio in the morning sun, cappuccino and croissant at the ready.

Next time, then, let us explore the eight stages of meditation, inspired and given to us by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.

Enough a 'ready..........blessings abound as Spring flowers surround us!

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mind: the Last Frontier

{Note: In a class series given by me and my wife, Padma, at the Ananda Meditation Temple near Seattle, WA, we've been exploring a revolutionary view of human history from the book "The Yugas," by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz--Crystal Clarity, Publishers. This article and the one or two which may follow it, are inspired by that book, even if the subject here is seemingly unrelated to it.)

Since the age of exploration in the 16th century to the present, humanity’s main focus has been to scale the heights, the depths, the remotest reaches of earth and ocean, and to soar into space. We have split the atom and are busy seeking the answers to the source and nature of matter and energy.

What we have distinctly set aside into a backwater of cultural and investigative interest is the exploration of the human mind. Psychology is one of the newest sciences, having begun as a science late in the 19th century. It hasn’t made much progress, at least to “my mind,” in comparison to the research and development of science of mind researchers in ancient times in India and other such civilizations.

To the extent our culture has shown an interest in consciousness, it has taken the form natural to our modern sciences: an interest in the brain. While certainly helpful and interesting and while admittedly productive of research into the science of meditation, it remains body-bound, interested in and relating to the human body and nervous system. It has carefully avoided anything that cannot be measured by its machines or circumscribed by ascertainable behavior patterns.

Perhaps Descartes was the last to speak of the mind in existential terms when he declared (however incorrectly), “I think, therefore I AM.” In fairness to the old buster, I suppose he may have meant something more akin to “I am self-aware and thus experience myself as an object (distinct from other objects, including people).” Maybe the English translation is lousy, I don’t know. But even a high schooler would probably catch Descartes’ error: “I AM (self-aware), therefore I can think.”

So far as my ignorance can admit, that was the last we heard of the mind (vs the brain). Ok, so the existentialists had a go at it, along with their (mostly German) predecessors. But all that nonsense about reality largely sidesteps the mind itself. Most of them, so far as my jaded college memory is concerned, seemed to assume that their reason would bring to light whatever truth there was to be found. If they could reason it out clearly, they seemed to believe they were on to something real. While I am sure some of them had doubts about how far their efforts could go in establishing reality, it is my belief that they at least hoped that reason would suffice to discover reality.

Their only real tool, after all, was reason and the age in which they lived has its roots going back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and was deeply committed to the recent so-called Age of Reason and the Age of Enlightenment (and the age of unceasing progress). Everyone, and certainly such deep thinkers, draws on intuition but they and our culture are largely unaware and lacking the credible tools and confidence with which to explore the subtler regions of the intuitive mind.

Developments in research and growing acceptance of evidence of reincarnation and near-death experiences, together with documented cases of children being born “without brains,” is beginning to make inroads into the fortresses of Reason and Matter.

The bible of consciousness that we’ve inherited from a long-ago age is the Yoga Sutras whose authorship is attributed to one “Patanjali” about which little to nothing is known. The date of his now famous treatise is only vaguely established somewhere between the first and fifth century BCE. It is widely believed NOT to be an original composition but a synthesis or summary of teachings handed down from ancient times.

The context and purpose of these “sutras” (aphorisms) are to detail a description of the journey of the ego-mind-body towards a state of Being which gives liberation from suffering, freedom from the existential and gnawing perception of our separateness, and freedom from identification with and dependence upon corporeal  existence or even subtle states of thought or feeling entirely.

The aphorisms claim that consciousness exists independent of the body or of any form and that, inhabiting the human body, its deepest yearning is to extricate itself from the hypnosis that the body, the senses, and the material (and subtle) world is the summum bonum of existence.

It is not a claim that would labeled as solipsism: the idea that the world is my own, subjective creation. Rather, the Sutras provide a roadmap to stilling the oscillations of the sense and body-bound mind (including feelings and actions) in order to perceive, rest in, and become the indwelling, eternal, unchanging and pure Consciousness which is the true Self and the Creator of all things, whether gross or subtle. In this reunion of individual consciousness with infinite consciousness, called “yoga,” the mind achieves perfect happiness or bliss. When the Self can sustain this state unbrokenly it need not be touched by any forays it may make into inhabiting a body or in traversing the worlds of matter, movement or thought.

Getting back to the last frontier of the mind, we are saying that this level of reality is independent and untouched by material objects, electrical (gross and subtle) energies, thoughts, emotions, memories, sleep, blankness and all other temporary states of being or sense objects.

The mind as seen from this vantage point of Oneness cannot be subjected to laboratory experiments using even sensitive machines. Yes, it’s true that brain waves and related electromagnetic emanations are measurable and are proven to be associated with different states of consciousness, but these measurements are not substitutes for those states nor can they define them, except by what few behavioral characteristics might be identifiable (heart rate and so on). It is presumably true that a person, for example, who habitually accesses deep states of meditation may be shown to be relatively free from anger, stress, or egotism, and may be shown to be more kind, compassionate and creative, but those are consequences not causes. They cannot substitute for the individual’s personal experiences of those states of mind.

These states of higher mind are not, by the measurement of individual experience, merely subjective, nor are they hallucinatory or mental projections or affirmations. They are not subjective because those who can achieve such states will show similar behavioral patterns as those described above. They are not inherently projections of the mind  or hallucinatory because those who do so are consistently found to be out of touch with day to day reality whereas subjects who achieve true states of higher consciousness are demonstrably more competent, creative, and balanced in outward behavior and attitudes.

The average person makes but rare distinction between his opinion (including emotional responses) and reality. If I feel a person is dishonest, I remain committed to that as a fact even if I have no proof. If I instinctively dislike someone, I find fault with this person readily. The opposite Is true for those whom I like. Making the distinction between reality and my perception of reality is a rare, or all too uncommon, fact of the behavior of most human beings. You can see this in high drama and profile in political or religious beliefs, or in racial or other stereotypical prejudices. Likes and dislikes in food, weather, fashion or morals are seen as subjective, irrational, or lacking in objectivity.

In the next blog, we will distill some of the levels of awareness that the Yoga Sutras reveal. From that we will offer suggestions for mindfulness and meditation that can help strip away the sheaths and layers of mental activity in order to achieve states of pure Self-awareness.

May the light of wisdom shine upon your mind, may the fragrance of truth exude from the flower of your receptive heart, and may your every action emanate waves of peace and charity to all,

Nayaswami Hriman

Monday, March 3, 2014

Give Peace a Chance?

Fighting in Ukraine: Russia vs the West? Sarajevo, 1914. One hundred years ago, the assassination of the Archduke, heir to the Hapsburg throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, triggered the outbreak of World War I, the war "to end all wars" among the competing trigger-happy, imperialist western powers. The first fifty years of the twentieth century saw violence and killing on a scale unprecedented in human history. The result has been the collapse of imperialist dynasties and empires. The residue, like acidic ashes, gave rise to the Soviet Union and to America as opposing imperialist forces. Each, though on different timelines, have been steadily weakened. Are they back at it? Will we never learn to be cooperative partners and equals with the rest of the world, especially its emerging nations and cultures? Must we always attempt to dominate?

Now, 2014, one hundred years later, a minor political flare-up in a small state resting on the fault line of east and west threatens to ignite Cold War and maybe Hot War tensions once again.

There exists a fault line through the Asia-European imaginary continental boundary that is not so imaginary and where tectonic cultural plates meet and all too often clash and thrash about for supremacy. Up through the near east (Egypt, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and right up the line to Scandinavia exists this (I wish it were) imaginary "fault."

The east in its higher values is expansive: Indian cultures inclines towards the impersonal, abstract and cosmic; China inclines to social ethics and responsibilities and harmony. In its darker side it inclines toward ruthlessness and an absence of value upon individual human lives.

The west in its higher values inclines toward individuality, personal liberty of thought and action, exploration of the material world, of nature through science and reason. The west in its darker side is domineering, arrogant, godless, prejudicial and exploitative.

(If I omit the southern hemisphere continents, well, they speak, or don't, for themselves. For whatever reason if any, the southern hemisphere has played a relatively small, perhaps insignificant, role in human history and culture in the few thousand years. Sorry to say this, but it seems self evident. If its a western prejudicial bias, well, there you have it, then!)

In the book, "The Yugas," by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz, (, the authors elaborate on a revolutionary view of history given to us by ancient cultures and specifically the culture of India as this view of history was modified, updated, clarified and corrected by a modern mystic and astrologer, Swami Sri Yukteswar (1855-1936), in the foreward to his one and only book, "The Holy Science."

According to this fascinating view of history, the planet earth and its human inhabitants are on a 12,000 year upward cycle of expanding awareness. The age we are currently in is not terribly enlightened but it is very energetic, rational, and technological. It is lacking, however, in wisdom. According to this account, the age we are in (which will last over two thousand more years before the appearance of a yet higher age), which they call Dwapara Yuga ("The Second Age"), warfare and insecurity (economic, planetary, weather, disease, political, etc.) will be unceasing. There may be periods, even some lasting a century or two, later on in this upward cycle, where peace will be experienced, but overall it is an age of energetic instability.

Well, who knows, eh? What we can see for ourselves, right now, is that on every continent, struggles by the have-nots against those in power and struggles between competing powers, parties, groups, nations, and tribes is unending. Armed now as we are with weapons of mass destruction (from automatic, rapid-fire guns to atomic bombs and everything in between), the causalities are shockingly high and shockingly inhumane.

Why would we expect such troubles to end anytime soon? People like you and I (why else would you be reading this blog), want it to be otherwise. Our own consciousness is peaceful and violence seems foreign to us. That fact, which is not unimportant, does not change the other and much larger fact of global violence and conflict.

Maybe we are still young adults and can still entertain roseate expectations, or not. So, shall we collapse in apathy and immerse ourselves in self-indulgence? Many have and many will continue to go this route. It leads to personal violence against our own health, happiness and well-being. So, in choosing that route, one is saying, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

But if you are reading this I would guess that's not the route you've chosen. We can give "Peace a chance" (John Lennon's song) by becoming "the change we seek" (Mahatma Gandhi). The odds of any one of us bringing the world to a state of peace by our own efforts is, well......I won't say it.

Our contribution and consciousness unites western individuality (sense of personal responsibility) with eastern expansiveness and cosmic view. As vibrant, conscious, living sparks of a higher intelligence, like points of light, we can reflect the light of wisdom and the healing rays of peace: first in our calm, centered, peace-filled heart; then, in the respect we show others; in the attentiveness, integrity, harmony, and excellence of our actions, no matter how mundane; and finally, in attunement with the great Will and Love of Life, the Spirit behind all seeming, we, as individuals, can know how we can be free from all violence.

Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952), author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," predicted that east and west (specifically, America and India) would work together to bring a higher consciousness into being during this energetic age. What he meant by "working together" wasn't explained but I suppose it ranges from the change of individual consciousness all the way "to the top" of international cooperation and exchange.

The tiny worldwide network of Ananda Communities and centers exists as a result of the efforts and dedications of thousands of individual souls. Our efforts provide a model and an example of how people who are otherwise from a wide range of backgrounds, can live together in harmony, serving creatively and being engaged, while yet retaining and refining our individuality towards our highest potential beyond mere ego consciousness.

It is a small step and it won't necessarily bring peace to Ukraine; or, will it? We may not know the consequences of our own consciousness and commitment to expressing it in outward effect, but we can make the effort and if we make no tangible contribution to the world around us, it will not be for lack of interest, but we will be changed for the better by the attempt.

Give a peace a chance!

Nayaswami Hriman